China Debuts MH-60R Copycat Z-20 Anti-Submarine Warfare Helicopter

Z-20 helicopter with radar antenna under its nose.

China’s Z-20 anti-submarine warfare helicopter debuted, indicating that Z-20 naval-type helicopter may be used in the same way as the U.S. MH60R/S, combining Z-20 anti-submarine type and multi-purpose type, to improve Chinese surface ships’ combat capability.

In the new century, China’s demand for helicopters increased rapidly as a result of the large number of new naval surface ships come into service. The Chinese Navy’s current helicopters, such as Z-8, Z-9, and Ka-28, are difficult to meet requirements in both quantity and quality. In this case, the Chinese Navy decided to develop a new generation of helicopters based on the homemade Z-20 helicopters – the Z-20 navy-purpose helicopter.

The U.S. Army’s new generation of shipboard helicopters is divided into two categories, MH60R to perform anti-submarine tasks and sea-to-ground strike tasks, equipped by naval strike helicopter squadron. And MH60S to perform amphibious warfare, special operations, fire support, and other tasks, used by the naval combat helicopter squadron. This combination emphasizes both the multipurpose capability of the helicopters and their respective focus, resulting in a high level of combined effectiveness.

According to military analyst Xiao Feizhu, China’s Z-20 helicopter has also taken Americans’ design ideas and is developed into two types to meet the Chinese Navy’s needs. One of these two types is equivalent to the MH60R and makes the anti-submarine warfare helicopter, while the other is similar to the MH60S and is a utility helicopter. This means that both helicopters use the same airframe, engine, drivetrain and avionics systems. It will help to reduce the logistical difficulties of surface ship formations, which are important for ocean-going manoeuvre operations.

It is speculated that the Chinese navy, like the U.S. navy, may group its helicopters into com assault bat helicopter brigades and combat helicopter brigades, the former equipped to aircraft carriers and surface ships for anti-submarine, anti-ship and firefighting missions. And the latter will be equipped to amphibious assault ships, dock landing ships, etc. for amphibious operations, airborne assault, special operations, and fire support missions.

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It is interesting to note that the difference in appearance between the Z-20 ASW and the multi-purpose type is the fact that the former has a large sea search radar mounted on its nose, which is also the main difference in appearance between the MH60R and MH60S. But the Z-20 anti-submarine warfare helicopter seaward search radar is a bit better than the MH60R.

Sources say that the Z-20 helicopter uses integrated radio frequency technology, the sea search radar using an active phased-array system, which can not only search the sea but also perform electronic reconnaissance missions. The Z-20 is also the world’s first helicopter to use integrated radio frequency technology, which improves helicopter detection capabilities and also saves space inside the helicopter, facilitating its ability to perform multiple missions.

The Chinese Navy had been short of suitable helicopters until the development of Z-20. Z-9 has been too small to support the towing line sonar long-range detection capability, it is difficult to accompany the formation to carry out ocean-going manoeuvre combat, the internal space of Ka-28 is insufficient, and its coaxial twin rotors have high requirements for space of hangars. And Z-8 series helicopter’s tonnage and size are too large, making it difficult to use in small and medium-sized surface ships.

These shortcomings were exposed in the Gulf of Aden escort operation, which led to the Chinese Navy’s awkward situation of “no (helicopter) available”. This problem has now been radically improved with the introduction of the Z-20 helicopter. On the other hand, its small size allows it to be used on small and medium-sized vessels, thus enhancing combat capabilities of the Chinese navy’s surface vessels.

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